Judgment day for MMFF 2016’s ‘changes’

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If Filipinos had to choose one word to describe 2016, it will arguably be “change.”

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This simple yet powerful word emerged from the presidential campaign of the man who is now the leader of the Republic of the Philippines, Rodrigo “Roa” Duterte. His battle cry: “Change is coming.”

And come it has indeed, not only in government but even in the realm of Philippine cinema.

Today, the change that has transpired in the 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival will finally be put to the test what with the very different turnout of selection this year—an almost all-independent slate of movies as finalists.

It will be remembered that following a change in rules of submission—the new requirement of entries as completed movies rather than mere scripts in previous years—an even bigger surprise awaited industry stakeholders and the public alike. The selection committee had left behind “regular” entries in the festival year after year such as those of Vic Sotto’s Enteng Kabisote franchise, Regal Entertainment and Mother Lily Monteverde’s Mano Po, and Vice Ganda’s comedy extravaganzas.

The MMFF Selection Committee declared amid an uproar that selection was based on quality.

“Commercial value is not really our main concern. Our first concern is quality, even if some may say the other films will make more money. So long as a film does not pass the evaluation, whatever its genre, it is not considered for the final cut,” committee member and noted writer Krip Yuson stated.

“Our secondary concern is the representation of genres. As to the commercial viability of the choices we made, we firmly believe that with proper marketing, they will commercially succeed because these films make all kinds of sense, and start with a good story,” he added.

As such, the decision sparked a divide among industry stakeholders and the movie-going public alike, with some welcoming the fresh approach, while others crying foul over the absence of “tradition”—that is, movie options targeted at children what with the festival falling during the Christmas holiday.

And so the metaphorical ball of change kept rolling as APT Entertainment, Star Cinema and Regal Films decided to show their should-have-been Christmas offerings, Enteng Kabisote, The Super Parental Guardian and Mano Po 7: Chinoy, ahead of the festival, with Vice Ganda’s headliner turning out to be a giant blockbuster.

Meanwhile, as weeks passed and cinema owners began feeling the jitters of a bleaker audience turnout this year, yet another “change” in the MMFF calendar was announced as a compromise. To ensure business in case certain entries do not to well at the box office, the festival will only run this year until January 3, four days short of the traditional 14-day MMFF block out in theaters.

Show must go on
But as they say in show business, the show must go on. And it will.

All controversies aside, the Magic 8 for the 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival will open with a bang in cinemas across the country beginning today. And so will The Sunday Times Magazine continue its annual tradition of providing its readers with a complete guide on what to watch on this once-a-year opportunity for Philippine Cinema to thrive on the big screen, devoid of any competition from Hollywood blockbusters.

In this issue of “change,”” The Sunday Times Magazine points out the individual strengths of the all-new finalists to the MMFF in the hopes of convincing the public that Filipino-made movies—independently produced or not; child-friendly or socially relevant—deserve to be seen and given a chance.

Eugene Domingo with Jericho Rosales

Eugene Domingo with Jericho Rosales

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #foreverisnotenough
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Joel Torre, Jericho Rosales, Kean Cipriano, Cai Cortez, Khalil Ramos, Gui Adorno and Hannah Ledesma. With special participation of Agot Isidro, Ricci Chan, Iñigo Pascual and Bb. Joyce Bernal
Director: Marlon Rivera
Writer: Chris Martinez
Producers: Martinez-Rivera and Quantum Films in Association with Tuko Film Productions, Butchi Boy Films and MJM Productions

Synopsis: Eugene Domingo is back as “Eugene Domingo” in this follow-up to the independent box-office hit movie, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank. A film within a film, the follow up once again sees Eugene Domingo, her director/writer Rainier (Cipriano), her line producer Jocelyn (Cortez) and their rookie production assistant Lennon (Ramos). This time, the team prepares for Eugene’s comeback vehicle after a long sabbatical from moviemaking. Rainier proposes “The Itinerary,” a heartbreaking anatomy of a crumbling marriage as told through a couple’s trip to Baguio, their former honeymoon location. Eugene Domingo is excited by the project but she has other ideas in mind.

Strength: The movie’s selling point is its jab at the most popular Pinoy movie genre, the romantic-comedy or rom-com. By presenting Eugene’s suggestions and recommendations—changing Rainier’s script by employing the poetics of the Pinoy rom-com genre into what is supposedly a realistic portrayal of love and marriage—the audience will be laughing at the absurdity and silliness that are supposedly taken in making a good love-and-laugh film.

Paolo Ballesteros’ Trisha

Paolo Ballesteros’ Trisha

Die Beautiful
Cast: Paolo Ballesteros, Luis Alandy, Joel Torre, Gladys Reyes, Albie Casino, Inah de Belen, Christian, IC Mendoza and Cedrick Juan. With special participation of Iza Calzado and Eugene Domingo
Director and Writer: Jun Robles Lana
Producers: Idea First Company and Regal Entertainment, Inc.

Synopsis: The movie revolves around the glamorous transgender woman Trisha—a mother to her adopted children, a cheerleader to her friends, and a beautiful lover to her special someone—whose dying wish is to be dressed as a different celebrity for every night of her wake. Problems arise when her conservative father refuses to follow her wishes.

Strength: The biggest strength of this movie, even according to its director, is its lead actor in Paolo Ballesteros. A TV and movie regular who has long been relegated to supporting roles, Ballesteros was a revelation. In fact, he even won the Best Actor Award at the prestigious Tokyo International Film Festival for his portrayal, while the movie received the Audience Award for endearing the film festival goers.

Another strength is the message of the movie. Inspired by the real case of Jennifer Laude—a transgender woman who was killed in 2012 in Olongapo—director and writer Jun Lana wanted to showcase the life and struggles of transgender women in the country, with trappings of comedy, in the hopes of gaining understanding from Filipinos.

The Superstar Nora Aunor at her best with co-stars Ricky Davao

The Superstar Nora Aunor at her best with co-stars Ricky Davao

Kabisera
Cast: Nora Aunor, Ricky Davao, Jason Abalos, JC de Vera, Menggie Cobbarubias, Victor Neri, Ces Quesada, Karl Medina, Perla Bautista, Ronwaldo Martin, Kiko Matos and Alex San Agustin.
Director and Writer: Real Florido
Producers: RJ Agustin, Firestarters Manila Productions and Silver Story Entertainment

Synopsis: The film focuses on the story of a tightly knit family whose lives fall apart after a tragic incident. Mercy (Aunor) takes the central seat (kabisera) to keep her family together. This central seat on the dining table has been considered symbolically as the seat of power in the home. It is where the “head of the family”—usually the father—enjoys the view of the entire family sharing food and bonding together. Unfortunately, fate intervenes in a tragic way, and exposes the imperfections of Mercy’s family, which are common in the lives of Filipinos families today.

Strength: Just by merely looking at the cast, one will easily identify that its strong and award-winning cast ensemble is one of its strongest selling points. In fact, the MMFF Screening Committee cited Kabisera not only for its “sure, steady directorial hand, conscientious script and effective cinematography,” but also for the lead actors’ faultless performances.”

Of course, there’s the one and only Philippine Movie “Superstar,” Aunor, a grand slam queen who has won (number) MMFF Best Actress awards. Her co-stars are not to be left behind—Davao and Abalos are both Gawad Urian Best Actors while Cobbarubias is an Urian Best Supporting Actor and Bautista is an Urian Best Supporting Actress. Meanwhile, De Vera is a QCinema Best Actor and Neri is an MMFF Best Supporting Actor. Quesada is a Sinag Maynila Best Actress while young actor Medina is a Cine Filipino Best Actor awardee.

Joem Bascon, Irma Adlawan (second and third from left) and company shed light on a true­–to–life injustice

Joem Bascon, Irma Adlawan (second and third from left) and company shed light on a true­–to–life injustice

Oro
Cast: Joem Bascon, Irma Adlawan, Mercedes Cabral, Sandino Martin, Sue Prado, Arrian Labios, Cedrick Juan, Biboy Ramirez, Ronald Regala, Tracy Quila, Timothy Castillo, Sunshine Teodoro and Acey Aguilar
Director and Writer: Alvin Yapan
Producers: Mark Shandii Bacolod, Feliz Film Productions

Synopsis: Based on true events now dubbed as the “Gata 4 Massacre,” Oro (Gold) depicts the life of four small-scale miners who were murdered on March 23, 2014 at their small but gold-rich community in Barangay Gata, Caramoan, Camarines Sur.

As the story goes, theirs was a peaceful location until an armed group, Patrol Kalikasan, masquerading as environmentalists, disturbed their livelihood with the target of cartelizing the production and trade of placer gold nuggets.

Strength: Based on a true event that was hardly picked up by major media outfits, Oro will open the eyes of viewers on the tragedy of Barangay Gata. However, do not be quick to write off the movie as just a mere re-enactment of the true-to-life event, as writer and director Yapan guaranteed he had full creative control and the blessing to add fictionalized parts to make the story more coherent. And like Kabisera, Oro also takes pride in having a multi-awarded cast in Gawad Urian Best Supporting Actor Bascon, Cinemalaya Best Actress Adlawan, World Premieres Film Festival Best Actress Cabral, and Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival Best Actor Martin, among others.

Horror, Erik Matti–style with Rhed Bustamante

Horror, Erik Matti–style with Rhed Bustamante

Seklusyon
Cast: Ronnie Alonte, Rhed Bustamante, Lou Veloso, Dominic Roque, Phoebe Walker, Elora Espano, Neil Ryan Sese, John Vic de Guzman, JR Versales and Lou Veloso
Director: Erik Matti
Writer: Anton Santamaria
Producer: Reality Entertainment

Synopsis: It is said that the last seven days before ordination among priests is the most dangerous for deacons. The devil will haunt and tempt them out of priesthood so the church sends them into a strict house of seclusion where they will be kept safe and far from worldly desires. This tradition was purportedly last seen in 1947 and Seklusyon depicts why this practice has since been barred. In the movie, four deacons—Alonte, Roque, de Guzman and Versales—undergo seklusyon only to be joined by a little girl reputed to be a “messenger of God” and a nun, serving as her guardian. Their presence conjure mysteries in the house and eventually force each deacon to face his own demon.

Strength: Helmed by no less than Erik Matti—dubbed by The Hollywood Reporter as the “Philippine genre-meister”—those among the movie-going public who looks for chills and thrills this Christmas season are in good hands with Matti. Having enjoyed a successful world premiere at the International Film Festival and Awards Macao (IFFAM), his newest masterpiece earned a rave review from top US-based entertainment publication, The Hollywood Reporter. Moreover, Matti promises to deliver not just a visual horror movie, but a feature presentation that will scare viewers psychologically.

Perhaps the top children’s pick is Rhian Ramos’ MMFF animated entry with Enzo Marcos

Perhaps the top children’s pick is Rhian Ramos’ MMFF animated entry with Enzo Marcos

Saving Sally
Cast: Rhian Ramos, Enzo Marcos and TJ Trinidad
Director: Avid Liongoren
Writer: Charlene Sawit-Esguerra
Producer: Rocketsheep Studios

Synopsis: Marty (Marcos) is an aspiring comic-book artist who is secretly in love with his beautiful best friend, Sally (Ramos), the gadget inventor. Like every love story, there are complications: Sally has abusive monster parents and a good for nothing boyfriend (Trinidad), while Marty has the innate ability to do nothing about everything despite his vivid fantasies of defending the love of his life from the big bad world.

Strength: It took more than a decade for director Liongoren to realize his project back in 2005. It also took a whole re-shoot (due to the unavailability of the original actress that portrayed Sally) to complete the actual film. This sheer dedication toward this passion project and the variety the movie offers—live action portrayal with an animated backdrop—may be Saving Sally’s strongest draw from the dreaded festival figure.

Hong Kong domestic helpers Hazel Perdido

Hong Kong domestic helpers Hazel Perdido

Sunday Beauty Queen
Cast: Hazel Perdido, Mylyn Jacobo, Cherry Bretania, Leo Selomenio and Rudelie Acosta
Director and Writer: Babyruth Villarama
Producers: Voyage Studios and TBA (Tuko Film Productions, Buchi Boy Entertainment, Artikulo Uno Productions)

Synopsis: Sunday Beauty Queen follows real life OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) in Hong Kong—those of Filipino maids spending their Sundays competing in a beauty contest for Filipinos, while revealing what their lives are like living away from home and working for foreign families.

Strength: The fact that a docu-film made it to the final eight of MMFF is strength in itself, and considered a historic feat.
The film had its world premiere in October at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews from a number of international media. Variety, for one, hailed the film as “an engaging documentary on Filipina overseas workers’ self-empowerment through beauty pageants”.

The millennials’ story brought to life by Julia Barretto, Joshua Garcia and Ronnie Alonte

The millennials’ story brought to life by Julia Barretto, Joshua Garcia and Ronnie Alonte

Vince and Kath and James
Cast: Julia Barretto, Joshua Garcia, Ronnie Alonte, Maris Racal, Ina Raymundo, Shamaine Buencamino, Ana Abad Santos and Jeric Raval
Director: Ted Boborol
Writers: Daisy Cayanan, Kim Noromor and Anjanette Haw
Producer: Star Cinema

Synopsis: Based on the hit online romantic series titled Vince & Kath, whose original plot is innovatively presented in screenshots of text messages among its main characters, Vince & Kath & James is a modern storytelling of young love in the new millennium.

Strength: Though produced on a relatively low-budget for major player Star Cinema, Vince & Kath & James banks on the fresh faces and raw talents of three of the day’s hottest young stars. Barretto, the youngest active actress from the famous showbiz clan, is not only talented in the acting the department, but is also a favorite muse for products, glossies and even social media. The young Barretto has amassed 3-million followers on Instagram alone.

Alonte, on the other hand, rose to popularity via It’s Showtime’s boy group #Hashtags and will showcase his acting chops in two MMFF entries—this and Seklusyon.

Finally, there’s Garcia who is dubbed by showbiz insiders as the next John Llyod Cruz, not only for his looks but also for his potential acting chops. He is a former housemate in ABS-CBN’s Pinoy Big Brother reality series who became a staple in his home network’s series of shows. He was praised for his well-acted supporting role in the hit film Barcelona: A Love Untold.

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